By Pete Schmitt, CTO, cStor
Imagination, creativity and constant change are part of the human journey and have been driving us forward in remarkable ways since the beginning of documented time.
In the span of only about the last 130 years, we’ve gone from the first rudimentary car, the 1885 Benz Motorwagen, (with the first stationary gasoline engine developed by Carl Benz that finally ran for the first time in 1879), to the spectacularly advanced autonomous vehicles we’re working tirelessly to perfect today.
All innovation naturally comes with both risks and rewards. Yes, it will take time, and along the way, some failures will occur. But the great creative minds throughout history knew instinctively that there really is no such thing as failure… only the opportunity to learn and improve.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Where would we be if Thomas Edison had given up? Albert Einstein? Alexander Graham Bell? Benjamin Franklin? Nikola Tesla? Steve Jobs? Bill Gates? What if they were all so fearful of change, they never attempted anything in the first place?
Thank goodness for the fearless, unwavering innovators of this planet.
Embracing new and uncharted territory can be daunting and fear of the unknown stops more people than we’ll ever know. At the start of the computer age, early technology leaders set, what I would deem, almost a ‘fear-based culture precedent’ by only betting on the largest and most trusted solutions because choosing them at least meant you wouldn’t get you fired… even if it never worked. Everything was new territory, and no one truly knew what might add value, and what might be an utter failure.
Today’s IT leaders, however, must take a completely different tact if they are truly committed to adding value to the business. They need to find new and innovative ways to transform into the service- and quality-driven function that organizations require to stay competitive and relevant.
Yes, doing things the way they’ve always been done might sound safe and comfortable. Sure, change is hard, I get it. You’ll have to retool and retrain your IT staff on new skills, technologies and processes. It’s only when you get your mindset around the exponential benefits that IT automation and orchestration bring that you’ll understand why this kind of change is more than necessary… it’s do… or eventually die, because your competition is evolving and you’re not.
So, before some examples on how and what to automate to get your creative juices flowing, here are some definitions for clarity’s sake:
- IT Automation is using instructions to create a repeatable process that will replace an IT professional manual work in both data center and cloud deployments. That means the company sets up tools and frameworks to conduct redundant tasks with very minimal administrator intervention. The scope of such automation can range from single actions to discrete sequences, to a completely autonomous deployment that’s triggered by user requests, behaviors or other events.
- IT Orchestration tools are considered part of the DevOps process world, allowing admins to focus on more critical, high-value tasks versus routine, repetitive steps to advance workflows.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking. At the most basic definitions, the concepts might incite fear, sounding like the loss of IT jobs for a skilled, well-compensated workforce… but bear with me.
This is where the mindset shift needs to take place at both the management layer — and frankly, everywhere else. Education is key, starting with your leaders.
Over the years, the IT organization’s value has been diminished because keeping up with technology while simultaneously trying to service the business function has been an increasingly tough challenge. Technology teams are often labeled as roadblocks to progress, slow to respond to the business and less than adept at keeping pace with the kind of modernization advancements required to compete and win in today’s competitive environment.
So, on to the automation examples.
Take simple password resets. According to a 2017 report published by LastPass, the average business user has 191 passwords to remember. The same report confirmed that 81% of security breaches are due to passwords and that the average 250-employee organization has 47,750 active passwords related to all users and all business systems.
LastPass also reported that the average employee starts off with only about 20 passwords but doubles that number in just three months. Worse still, the typical employee uses the same (or very similar) password everywhere.
Employing an automation strategy means, at the most basic level, you can empower employees through automation by allowing them to reset their passwords via a self-service portal. There they can verify their identity through a two-factor (or 2+ for those more paranoid than the average bear) validation process, and then execute a password reset themselves from start to finish with zero human interaction from IT staff.
Not only are employees satisfied more quickly, the resulting improvement in response time and problem-solving for the IT team means a new level of service quality without adding more staff. And your skilled IT staff can be retrained and retooled to focus on more high-value tasks that will make a bigger impact on the business.
What about security automation? Maybe that sounds too risky to touch but hang in there. Automating virus check and patch updates that your security system can quickly deploy everywhere – all handled by AI with built-in logic that auto-deploys the patch when it sees 3-4 similar incidents – means you suddenly have an “army of IT” protecting your users, data and environment. In the case of quickly evolving functions such as security, you might consider planning to automate 80% and maintaining manual reviews over 20% of the necessary activities.
Are you with me yet?
How about your help desk operations? Do you consistently see multiple tickets from different sources all reporting a very similar issue? You can automate a system alert that notifies front line help desk staff of an issue trend and precisely how to solve it. Suddenly your support team can troubleshoot multiple-incident issues within minutes versus days or weeks.
What about server deployment? What if users could request a new server through an online portal with the commonly approved configuration and spin it up in just minutes in order to support growth needs for a new line of business, office expansion or acquisition. Sound enticing yet?
The good news is that human intervention and oversight is still required in many cases. So far, we have not created a technology that completely replaces the magnificence of the human brain.
So, where do you start?
Across the organization, identify your top 5 pain points. Ask your leaders and your team where they spend the most time each day. What fires are they fighting most often that seem to show their ugly burning faces over and over again… even if they’re relatively simple to resolve.
This often means automating your level 1 support issues. Begin there, and then consider what level 2 issues you may be able to automate as well. Keep in mind as you move up the support chain to more complex issues, the more frustration you may receive from your internal users. Always build into your automation plan an easy ‘exit door’ where users can easily request help from a human. Letting them escalate too far down your automation trail can lead to disaster.
Once you’ve identified the top prospects for automation, conduct a skills gap analysis so you understand the reality of your team’s ability to deploy and manage your automation and orchestration plan. You may only need to train them to ‘repair the robots’ so if anything in the automation process breaks, they are alerted and can get it back online fast. Conversely, if your internal team seems ill-equipped, consider finding an expert partner that can help you through the strategy, deployment and ongoing management of your automation workflows.
Be sure to work with experts that can help you evaluate potential technologies to help with pieces such as software-defined networking (e.g. Cisco), big data analyses (e.g. Splunk), and DevOps automation (e.g. Harness.io).
In the end, you’re competing more against your own history of responsiveness and service quality than you are against market competitors. Be sure to set baseline cSAT measures and check your progress consistently and routinely over time to monitor the end-user impact of your automation plans.
Working to automate common, repetitive, yet necessary tasks may seem daunting at first, but the time savings, new efficiencies and improvements to service levels will pay off big dividends in the end.
As it all turns out… slow is actually the new broken.
Automation can help change the game.
I can only blame the likes of Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Uber for setting this kind of on-demand expectation with your customers, who have learned to project such consumer-level expectations for responsiveness onto the world of work. It’s here to stay, so time to get some of the ‘autonomous cars’ in your world working for you sooner versus later.
As always, we’re here to help.